|As a physical illness, the coronavirus appears to affect women less severely. However, with the spread of the pandemic, we are witnessing closure of schools, nurseries and support systems for child-care. Caring and looking after older people, patients and children during this period of household isolation will fall more heavily on women, because of the existing structure of the workforce. Couples are making tough decisions on how to divide up this extra unpaid labor. Dual-income couples will soon have to decide which one of them takes the hit in terms of income. Single parents face even harder decisions in contexts where many of them are women.
There are experiences of people from other epidemics and health crises. Academics who studied these episodes found that they had deep, long-lasting effects on gender equality. These experiences should inform the current response to COVID-19. In both rich and poor countries, campaigners expect domestic-violence rates to rise during lockdown periods. Further epidemics are inevitable, and the temptation to argue that gender is a side issue, a distraction from the real crisis, must be resisted. What we do now will affect the lives of millions of women and girls in future outbreaks.